Carrie Fisher reportedly “loved” the Princess Leia cameo in Rogue One.
Special effects guru Jeff Knoll led the team that created the CGI renditions of Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin that appeared in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In an interview with ABC News’ Nightline, Knoll explained the technical process of creating the creating the characters, the significance of pushing the envelope with digital and visual effects in the Star Wars franchise, and Carrie Fisher’s reaction to the Princess Leia cameo.
Considering Carrie Fisher’s recent death, it’s an upbeat note to a sad story.
Jeff Knoll told Nightline that Carrie Fisher was “involved in the process” that led to a lifelike, but digital creation of Princess Leia that appeared in the final scene of Rogue One. After the movie’s ragtag team of main characters successfully steals the plans to the first Death Star and transfers them to the Rebel Alliance during an epic space battle, rebel soldiers are pursued and slaughtered by Darth Vader before they manage to give the plans to Princess Leia. The actress turns around to receive them–and reveals herself to be a partially digitally rendered image of 19-year-old Carrie Fisher.
“She saw the final result and she loved it,” Knoll said of the late Carrie Fisher in the ABC interview. He emphasized that she was on-board with the process and that the CGI effects were done with her permission.
Knoll grew up with a passion for model making and joined the special effects company that Star Wars creator George Lucas created for the film’s special effects. Industrial Light and Magic, or ILM, did the special effects for the most well-known science fiction films. They continuously broke new ground in digital techniques, and Knoll gained additional success as one of the creators of the image editing software Photoshop. He also pitched the story of Rogue One to Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm since the Disney buy-out.
Therefore, he felt positive about the groundbreaking visual effects that brought Princess Leia to the screen.
“Star Wars has always pushed the technological envelope. The first Star Wars film represented a revolution in visual effects techniques. I think it’s entirely appropriate that we’d be using these films to raise the bar.”
The effect was created through a conglomerate of digital effects and live actors. Norwegian actress Ingvild Deila played Leia beneath the CGI modeling as casting directors felt she had looks similar to 19-year-old Carrie Fisher as she appeared in Star Wars: A New Hope. Using a head mounted camera rig to record the actress’s performance, digital artists overlayed the recording on a computer model. They then cleaned up the footage frame by frame until they were satisfied with their digital creation.
— Ingvild Deila (@Ingvild_Deila) December 24, 2016
The process had never been attempted before, and ILM technicians described their feelings on being tasked with the ambitious project as “excited and terrified.”
“We look at human faces all day, every day, so people are very attuned to what looks off.” The team watched scenes from Star Wars over and over to get the right feel for what they had to do. After 18 months, their hard work gave them “the power of illusion” to portray Carrie Fisher as she had appeared in the 1977 film and, of course, the CGI character who was on screen the most, Grand Moff Tarkin. This character was played by Peter Cushing, who died over 20 years ago but was brought back to life with the help of actor Guy Henry.
— Comic Zulia® (@ComicZulia) December 29, 2016
Before she passed, Carrie Fisher joked about her role in Star Wars. “I got older and no one told me,” she said.
The seamless resurrection of the characters was considered cutting edge work. However, some questioned the ethics of bringing back deceased actors to reprise their roles. Lucasfilm had permission from Peter Cushing’s estate, and Carrie Fisher reportedly loved the Princess Leia cameo in Rogue One. But with Carrie Fisher’s unexpected death, the ethics question has been brought up again, and studio executives met to discuss what to do in Episode IX.
Whether Carrie Fisher will somehow reprieve her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars: Episode IX, and if digital actors will find their way into more films, remains to be seen.
[Featured Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]